247. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

As the first wider meetings in Paris approach, the following elements are at play:

I. The GVN

It is now clear that the GVN may move slowly and reluctantly in the Paris negotiations. This is the tactic they have followed in the last few weeks. It is hard for the GVN to move as rapidly as we want them to, even if President Thieu wants to. He has his own problems, which are quite legitimate from his point of view. Applying pressure through Bunker-Thieu confrontations cannot in itself produce speed.

  • —The GVN delegation still has to get to Paris, to set up shop, and establish working relations with the U.S. delegation and with its own backup (still non-existent) in Saigon.
  • —The GVN will probably want to bicker over procedural matters and open with firm public statements describing its attitude towards the enemy. We will have to accept some of this, although it will slow down visible progress, in order to prevent a fight with the GVN.
  • —We will have to begin serious and frank discussions with the GVN over substantive negotiating positions. It will take time for the [Page 731] GVN to digest our views, although we do not necessarily have to have their agreement on substance before we embark on exploratory or bilateral negotiations with the DRV on certain specified subjects (see below).


Hanoi is by now fully aware of the potential for US/GVN friction which Paris has provided. We should expect that they will seek to exploit this opportunity, as they did December 4 when they made an unacceptable proposal on the order of speaking.2 I agree with Ellsworth Bunker that they have made a decision to move their primary efforts from the military arena to the political/negotiations arena.

Some of Hanoi’s strategy in these talks has already become evident. They will use every opportunity to put forward the NLF as the party to whom we should talk if the subject under discussion concerns South Viet-Nam. This is why every time Vance complains to Lau about violations of the DMZ, Lau replies that there are no NVN troops in the DMZ, and that any attacks from the DMZ have been made by the NLF; and, Lau adds, Madame Binh is in Paris now ready to talk to the US about this matter. We are going to see more of this tactic as the negotiations progress. Hanoi’s opening objective will be to force us to talk to the NLF. Its fall-back objective probably will be to get the US and GVN to talk to the NLF. They may eventually settle for a GVN/NLF discussion. We should resist DRV efforts to get us to deal directly with the NLF without the GVN being present.


The GVN is getting what it wants out of a slow public pace in Paris. The US has a legitimate and reasonable objective of its own, to which the GVN cannot object: bilateral talks, in secret but with GVN awareness on certain specified topics.

The GVN will not object strongly to this. Since they have always assumed that US/DRV bilaterals would take place, we lose nothing (and actually gain something by our candor) by telling them that we have resumed bilateral talks with Hanoi, and that we will keep the GVN informed on their status.

There are at least three issues which are a legitimate subject for bilaterals—the DMZ, mutual troop withdrawal, and Laos. We should tell the GVN that these bilateral discussions will not deal with matters pertaining to the political future of South Viet-Nam.

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We should keep the GVN generally informed on the course of the bilaterals, recognizing that the bilaterals will have a direct influence upon both the public and private behavior of the GVN.

IV. On the Substantive Issues for Bilaterals:


DMZ: Vance has already proposed that we fix a date after which there would be no military activity in or across the DMZ. The DRV has not yet made a serious counter-offer. We may, however, already be in the first step of a genuine exchange of views on the subject. We should pursue the subject in the bilateral format.

While these talks are going on we should not take military action in the DMZ which would increase the fighting, unless Hanoi makes major military actions from the DMZ. Abrams at present has authority sufficient to deal with the problem.

In any case, we should be prepared for a series of meetings on the DMZ; we should not hesitate to press the issue with the other side, but not concentrating on it to the exclusion of other subjects.

Mutual Withdrawal: The most obvious other subject that can be discussed bilaterally is mutual troop withdrawal. We have already raised the subject with the NVN prior to the cessation of bombing, on September 15, 1968 (see attached).3 At the appropriate time, we should repeat our proposal and offer to discuss it in more detail. The discussion of this subject does not need to await a satisfactory conclusion to the DMZ discussions.

Laos: In putting forward mutual withdrawal, we should specify that NVA troops must leave not only South Viet-Nam but return to North Viet-Nam. Further, when we talk of mutual withdrawal, we should include under our definition of troops to be withdrawn all NVA in Laos and Cambodia. We also insist on respect and compliance for the 1962 Laos Accords.

Far more than procedures can be discussed in the coming weeks. We can lay the groundwork for key elements in a settlement of the Viet-Nam conflict. The above proposals would accomplish this.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-I Files: Lot 74 D 271, Nicholas Katzenbach Files, NK Chron, 1968. Secret; Nodis/HARVAN Plus.
  2. See Document 245.
  3. See Document 14.